In 1888–9 Vincent van Gogh produced one of the most famous series of paintings in the world – seven glorious variations of the ‘Sunflowers’

Today, five of these masterpieces hang in five art museums around the world:

On 14 August 2017, in a world-first Facebook Live relay, the paintings were united virtually in a unique collaboration between the museums.

The relay consisted of five captivating episodes, presented by leading art experts.

Watch recordings of the episodes on Facebook

Meet the museum curators who presented Sunflowers Live

Christopher Riopelle, Curator of Post-1800 Paintings at the National Gallery, London: “The excitement we saw three years ago when the London and Amsterdam ‘Sunflowers’ were shown together, especially among young visitors to the National Gallery, convinced us that there is a deep curiosity on the part of the public and scholars alike to understand how this famous series came into being, what the pictures meant to Vincent, and what they mean to us today.”

Axel Rüger, General Director of the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam: “Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ have been inspiring people around the world for generations. However, as the five paintings are spread across different continents, the works have never been seen together. Fortunately, that’s all changed. This is a milestone that we’re exceptionally proud of. And one perfectly befitting the Van Gogh Museum mission: making the life and works of Vincent van Gogh accessible to all.”

Nadine Engel, Research Associate at Neue Pinakothek, Munich“Observing our Impressionist and Post-Impressionist galleries is always rewarding, because visitors immediately feel connected to the works on show, especially to the paintings by Van Gogh. We are thrilled to participate in #SunflowersLive, enabling people all over the world to experience not one, but five extraordinary paintings, which likely will never be shown together in any other way.”

Jennifer Thompson, The Gloria and Jack Drosdick Curator of European Painting & Sculpture & Curator of the John G. Johnson Collection, European Painting at the Philadelphia Museum of Art: “Nearly 130 years ago, Vincent van Gogh spent an August week painting a bouquet of sunflowers. The canvases he made then and in the following months continue to captivate us and raise fresh questions.”

Vincent van Gogh

Van Gogh (1853 – 1890) is today one of the most popular of the Post-Impressionist painters, although he was not widely appreciated during his lifetime

Source: Zach Scott

Van Gogh was born in Holland, the son of a pastor; he travelled to London in 1873, and first visited Paris in 1874. Over the next decade he was employed in various ways, including as a lay preacher.

By 1883 he had started painting, and in 1885-6 he attended the academy in Antwerp where he was impressed by Japanese prints and by the work of Rubens. On his return to Paris in 1886 he met artists such as Degas, Gauguin and Seurat, and as a result lightened the colours he used.

The traumas of his life, documented in his letters, have tended to dominate and distort modern perceptions of his art.

In 1888 Van Gogh settled in Arles in Provence, where he was visited by Gauguin and painted the ‘Sunflowers’ series.

Van Gogh is famed for the great vitality of his works which are characterised by expressive and emotive use of brilliant colour and energetic application of impastoed paint.

Virtual Sunflowers 360

Take a virtual tour of the ‘Sunflowers’ with Willem van Gogh, the great grandson of Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother and soulmate

         For the best experience, watch on the Facebook mobile app

Happiness, devotion, loyalty and tragedy

Van Gogh painted the ‘Sunflowers’ at the ‘Yellow House’ he rented in Arles, France

Van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’ (detail), 1888 © The National Gallery, London

Van Gogh’s dream was to set up an artist’s colony, and he was excitedly awaiting the arrival of his hero, Gauguin, to join him in Arles. Two of the sunflower paintings (the London and Munich versions) were made to decorate Gauguin’s bedroom by way of a welcome to the house.

Van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’ (detail), 1888 © Neue Pinakothek, Munich

Yellow, for Van Gogh, was an emblem of happiness – in Dutch literature, the sunflower was a symbol of devotion and loyalty.

Van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’ (detail), 1888 © Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art, Tokyo

Painting them takes the energy and concentration of a person’s whole being.” [Van Gogh to his brother Theo]

Gauguin joined Van Gogh in October 1888, but their experiment in communal living did not last long. The two agreed on very little, and as Gauguin said, “certainly not on painting”. Gauguin departed in anger around Christmas 1888, and Van Gogh suffered a breakdown.

Van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’ (detail), 1888/9 © The Philadelphia Museum of Art

By January 1889, however, Van Gogh had returned to the sunflowers motif, and painted a further three versions (now in TokyoAmsterdam, and Philadelphia). Two of these (Amsterdam and Philadelphia) were to hang either side of a portrait of his friend Augustine Roulin. The resulting triptych would be an image of consolation.

Van Gogh, ‘Sunflowers’ (detail), 1889 © Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

In the months that followed, Van Gogh’s mental health deteriorated and he tragically killed himself in July 1890. To many, the last years of his life represent the culmination of his artistic achievement, and the ‘Sunflowers’ a beacon of his talent.

Source: Vangogh Sunflowers